After much hype, anticipation, and promotion, AMC's The Walking Dead premiered last night, semi-appropriately on Halloween. It's not uncommon for shows with so much marketing behind them to disappoint. And given that The Walking Dead is an adaptation of a comic book much beloved by an incredibly discerning fan base, and there's plenty of reason to expect reviews summed up thusly: "The book was better."
Which is why I'm proud to say that The Walking Dead exceeded every expectation, even for those who are well ahead of the show's story because they've read what happens on the printed page. Taking a comic and converting it for the big screen is no small task, and producer Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) does a fine job retaining the comic's strengths and reinforcing its weaknesses.
My biggest beef with the comics is the rapid pace at which things happen (my second-biggest beef would be the dialogue). But that's a problem with the medium; you can't waste valuable panels taking the time to bridge things together. Darabont has successfully filled those gaps, intensifying the emotion and tension necessary to pull off The Walking Dead as a horror series. Admit it, you were peeking through your fingers at some parts. What that means, though, is a slower series than one might expect given the breakneck speed of the comics.
But the deliberate pace of The Walking Dead is actually an asset, and its stretched-out scenes are carefully planned so that, like those who are running in fear from the undead, all our available senses are being taxed. The Walking Dead uses sound better than any show I've
seen heard recently, particularly in its eerie lack of noise. As Rick (a very able Andrew Lincoln) headed down the stairs toward the hospital exit and tiptoed among the dead, the only sound cues we heard were the desperate flicking and fizzling of matches, the hum of cicadas, and Bear McCreary's haunting score. It works. And it works well. Surround Sound and high-definition are a must.
The pace also reiterates what this story is about: how the human psyche copes with the destruction of all things we hold dear. The Walking Dead isn't about zombies; it's about the people who are surviving among them and the lengths those people will go to in order to survive. It's an honest-to-goodness character study, and that will be much more evident when we get to Episode 2.
We knew The Walking Dead would deviate from the comic, and for purists that can spell disaster. The show's sidesteps aren't yet drastic (we've only seen one episode, after all)—but for the television audience, so far they've only served the story better. One particular scene that was added—in which Morgan (Lennie James) took to the second story of his hideout with a sniper rifle and couldn't quite pull the trigger on his zombie wife—may have been the most difficult (and therefore awesome) scene to watch. The chatter between Shane and Rick at the beginning was also another addition that was necessary for television conversion, but it didn't feel tacked on. The trick to successfully turning a comic into a show is a matter of picking your fights, and Darabont has chosen wisely.
And oh the gore! I love me some splattered guts and flying brain matter, and The Walking Dead looks like a Megadeth album cover come to life. How many series do you know that make their first kill a little girl holding a teddy bear? Sure, she was a zombie, but still. And the gore isn't for shock value; it's necessary to the story and the way in which it's handled and shown on-screen is with much care. A special shout-out to the makeup and effects people is in order.
The Walking Dead has been described as a George Romero movie that doesn't end, and given the fact that the 90-minute first installment of the series encapsulated only about an issue and a half (the comic is currently somewhere in the high 70s or early 80s in number of issues), this series could go on for quite some time. I'll be watching. Next week: my boy Glenn!
Which zombie death was your favorite?
... Little girl with teddy bear
... Rick's cop friend through the chain link fence
... The sniper victims and their exploding brains
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom